“The hell I don’t!” I snapped.
“Watch your language—you’re in a church,” Sammie muttered, sounding a bit too much like Mama.
“Is this all you wanted? To be a carbon copy of Mama? To pretend that things are fine when they aren’t? You abandoned me, Sammie, after I took you in, and you have nothing to say about it? No remorse?”
She parted her lips as her body shivered a little. “It . . . it was in God’s will to end up this way.”
What a fucking cop-out.
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the woman who was standing in front of me saying these things. I didn’t know that woman. I didn’t know the girl who stood there speaking the words that she had. My sister wasn’t that person. My sister could never be so cruel and heartless. No . . . the woman in front of me was a product of our parents. They’d shaped her solid during the most traumatic times of her life.
And the sister I knew, the Sammie I loved, was no longer anywhere to be found.
“It’s a sad day when a person needs to use God to cover up their guilt for harsh choices in life,” I muttered, turning away, knowing there wasn’t anything else left for me to say.
As I went to open the door, Sammie called out.
I looked back to find a teary-eyed girl staring my way. Her bottom lip trembled as she said, “Please don’t tell anyone about Reese and me. It would ruin my life. I can’t deal with that. I have a new beginning. People can’t know.”
I didn’t say another word to her as I walked out of the building. I’d never tell a soul about what Sammie did all those years ago. But that guilt on Sammie’s heart?
That was something she’d have to deal with for the rest of her life.
My days felt heavy as memories of my trip to see Sammie kept coming up and pounding me with emotions. I did my best to distract myself with spending extra quality time with Reese and coming up with new recipes to try for Oliver. Cooking and my daughter were my two saving graces. Without them both, my mind would’ve run wild.
One afternoon, while I was making a grocery list for the week at Oliver’s, I heard sniffling coming from the pantry.
Alarmed, I headed over quickly, where I found a crying Kelly falling apart, with her palms over her face.
“Oh my gosh, Kelly, what’s wrong?” I asked, rushing to her side and pulling her straight in for a hug.
“I’m sorry, Em.” She sniffled and tried to control her emotions. “I just saw the cereal up there, and it reminded me of a night that Alex and I stayed up late into the night eating cereal, and it’s stupid but it hit me hard, and now . . .” She couldn’t finish her words, because she began sobbing again.
It was the first time I’d witnessed Kelly showing any kind of sadness. Oliver had told me that she and Alex had had a past together and were falling in love, but I’d never brought it up to her, because I figured it was a hard topic to tackle. She always seemed so upbeat and composed, so seeing her crumbling from having a memory come rushing back to her broke my heart.
“I’m so stupid. I’m sorry, I’m fine,” she said, wiping the tears that kept falling.
“You’re not stupid, and you’re not fine. You don’t have to be fine, Kelly. I cannot even imagine what it is you’re going through.”
She looked at me with the most heartbroken stare and shook her head. “You don’t know how awful I feel. I feel so guilty.”
She sniffled and covered her face with the palms of her hands. Through her muffled sounds she said, “A man asked me on a date at CycleBar today, and I gave him my number,” she cried. “How could I do that? How could I give another man my number after losing the best man I’ve ever had?”
Oh, Kelly . . .
That moment was a complete realization for me. While I’d been dealing with my own demons, Kelly had been facing hers. I hadn’t even known how deep her scars ran until that very moment. It was then that I realized that everyone had struggles that they tried their best to keep to themselves.
“You can’t be that hard on yourself, Kelly. You deserve to be happy again.”
“I don’t even know what that means anymore!” She cried, even harder, and I held her tighter in my arms.
“You know what you need?” I whispered, trying my best to soothe her.
I pulled her back a little and smiled at her as I brushed away some of her tears. “You need a girls’ day.”
After some convincing, Kelly agreed to have me take her on a spa day, to help clear her head and heart from the mess that was sitting inside of her.
“Are you sure it’s okay?” I asked Oliver as Kelly went to clean herself up a little.
“Yes, of course. She needs it. Plus, I can get by feeding myself for the day,” he joked. “How can I help?”
“Actually, I was wondering if you could do me a huge favor and pick Reese up from camp today? I asked Abigail, but she already has plans.”
“Of course, not a problem. What time?”
I gave him all the information, and he was more than willing to help me out.
“Thank you, Emery . . . for being there for Kelly. I know you’re going through your own stuff, but it means a lot to me that you’re helping her out.”
“I think we both need a day to get away,” I confessed. “The world’s been a lot lately. I just feel as if it’s time to unplug for a second.”
“Take all the time you two need. I’ll be here with Reese when you’re ready to come home.”
He said it as if his home was mine. That made me smile more than I knew possible.
Reese’s camp looked like a scene from the cartoon Recess, where the kindergartners ran around in their playground like wild animals. All the kids were shouting as they chased one another around. In that moment, I was so damn happy I’d never attended summer camp. It probably would’ve fucked with my anxiety more than anything else.
I stood leaning up against my car, waiting to spot Reese to take her home. Emery had already called the camp instructors to inform them that I’d be the one picking her daughter up, so now was the waiting game.
Kids dashed past me as they hurried to their cars to head home for the night. When I spotted Reese, I stood up straighter and studied the interaction that was taking place. She didn’t look like her bubbly self that I’d grown to love. She looked . . . sad?
Then, my concern turned into rage as I witnessed a young boy poking her with a stick, and then he pushed her down to the ground.
“Hey, what the fuck!” I hollered, rushing over to the scene, shocked by what had just happened. No camp instructors seemed to notice what had taken place, which only made me more livid.
“Dude, don’t ever put your hands on her again,” I snapped at the kid.
He looked at me like he was the toughest kid on the playground, and he rolled his eyes. Yeah, that’s right. The little shit rolled his eyes at me.
“Whatever, you’re not my dad. You can’t tell me what to do,” he huffed.
I helped Reese up, and she hurried to stand behind me as embarrassment settled in.
“Yeah, I’m not your dad, but I will tell on you,” I threatened.
“My dad could kick your butt,” the kid said, leaving me shocked. What kind of demon child was this? Was his mother Cam? He had way too much in common with her.
I looked around and shouted, “Hey, whose kid is this? Somebody’d better tell me whose little shit this is!” I hollered.
“That’s a quarter for the swear jar,” Reese whispered.
I’d gladly put the coin in the jar for this situation.
“What’s going on over here?” a deep voice said. I turned to see a guy who was twice my size marching my way, but I wasn’t going to step down. Not when it came to having Reese’s back.
“What’s going on is your son pushed Reese to the ground, and he wouldn’t apologize.”
“It’s not true, Dad! He’s lying!” the jerk lied.
Must’ve been Cam’s kid.
“He said he didn’t do it, so he didn’t do it,” the man said, standing tall.
“Well, your kid’s a liar.”
He puffed out his chest. “You getting slick? Don’t talk about my son.”
“Then tell him to keep his hands to himself, and we wouldn’t have a damn problem.”
Before the huge giant spoke again, he narrowed his eyes at me, taking me in. “Wait a fucking minute. Aren’t you Oliver Smith?”
I shifted in my shoes. Not wanting to answer that.
“Yeah, he’s Oliver Mith, and he’s my friend!” Reese chimed in, finding her voice again.
“Holy shit! I’m a big fan,” the scary giant said, taking my hand into his and shaking it nonstop. His whole demeanor shifted as he came to the realization of who I was. “Man. Your music is the best. Sorry about your loss, dude. My condolences.”
It was as if he was a brand-new person. He even seemed a bit smaller somehow too.
He turned to his kid and gave him a stern look. “Did you push that girl, Randy?”
“Yes! He did! I even scraped my knee!” Reese said, showing her leg.
“Why did you push her?” his father asked him.